LAST WEEK, Vijay Kumar, a 30-year-old farmer from Hasanpur village in Haryana’s Sonepat district, found his name on a list that reached his village sarpanch through WhatsApp. Kumar and 24 others from his village were directed to provide blood samples for DNA tests, by the Special Investigation Team (SIT) probing alleged gangrapes committed at Murthal during the Jat quota agitation in February last year.
“On March 9, 12 men from our village and 10 from neighbouring Kurad village were called by the SIT to a government guest house, where we were told that those arrested earlier had named some men from the two villages. The officers said we had to provide our blood samples which would be matched with the DNA samples retrieved from the clothes found at the alleged rape site,” said Kumar, father of a two-year-old. The next day, he found his name on the SIT list and was taken to the Sonepat General Hospital, along with 14 others, for the test.
The list for Hasanpur village, accessed by The Indian Express, is a handwritten note with no official stamp or signature. “We had no other option but to go for the tests. For the past one year, we have been questioned by the police, SIT and media. They have ruined our reputation. I went for the test so that my name is cleared, but at the hospital too we did not fill any official paperwork. What if my samples are misused,” said Kumar.
Fifty kilometres from Delhi, Murthal hit the headlines during the Jat agitation last year, when The Tribune reported, on February 24, that women travellers had been raped during the blockade on National Highway-1 in the early hours of February 22. Following the report, an SIT with three women police officers was formed by the Haryana government and an FIR was registered against five men from Hasanpur and Kurad at the Murthal Police Station on March 30.
So far, there have been 22 hearings before the high court. Till date, however, the SIT has neither been able to locate any victim or eyewitness. The five accused — Vinay, Jatinder, Jai Deep, Jasbir and Bhanu Partap — were granted bail due to lack of evidence.
The SIT has submitted 10 status reports in sealed covers so far — the last one was handed over today. The SIT informed the high court that it has identified fresh “suspects” and their DNA samples have been sent to a forensic laboratory. It told the court that some of them were not cooperating. The court directed the SIT to submit a fresh status report on the next date of hearing on April 6.
“It is a weak case and no victims have come forward, but we have to investigate all possible angles. The present list was prepared on the basis of confessional statements of those arrested earlier and people we spoke to during our investigation. We are not forcing anyone, they are giving their blood samples of their own will,” said a senior member of the SIT who did not wish to be identified.
But residents of both Kurad and Hasanpur, which lie on either side of the alleged crime site on the National Highway, claimed otherwise. “Yes, we went on our own, but that is because our names were on the SIT list. Over the past year, I have been questioned several times. I have to leave work at the farm and my studies to respond to questions by the police. I hope this test clears my name,” said Vicky, 26, who is pursuing his BA through a distance learning programme from Delhi University.
“Earlier too, I was questioned in connection with rioting and property damage, and now this interrogation for rape. I was at home on that night, but my name has been maligned forever. I have been appearing for walk-in interviews for call centre jobs, but the moment I tell them I am from Hasanpur, the interviewers ask me to leave,” said Vicky.
“During interrogation, even when we prove to the police that we were not present during the incident, they say, ‘Chal toone nahi kiya toh kisne kiya, naam bata (So if you didn’t do it, who did it? Give us the names).’ We are forced to name others. That is how this list has been prepared,” said Kumar.
The three out on bail from Hasanpur village refused to speak to The Indian Express. “They have named the others under pressure. What could they have done? There are others in the village who have named their friends, but that was out of fear as well,” said Jai Karan, brother of the village sarpanch.
Surender Singh, 50, a village elder who accompanied the 15 men to the hospital for the tests, agreed. “It’s all rubbish, there was no rape. There hasn’t been a single day in the past year when we have not been questioned. Our boys took the names to get out of the situation,” he said, adding that the “media has maligned the name of our village”. “No one wants to marry our daughters, no one wants to give us jobs, we are being treated like terrorists. Now we are being told that there are 20 more names, what do we do?”
The police, however, denied putting any “pressure”. “We were just following the orders of the SIT. I sent them the list and told them to go for the test, only if they wish to,” said Inspector Rambir Singh, SHO of Murthal Police Station, refusing to divulge details about the probe.
Sonepat Mahila Thana SHO, Inspector Parmila Devi, who is part of the SIT, denied that the names were taken by the suspects under duress. Devi said the samples had been sent for analysis to the state government’s forensic lab, and wasn’t sure when the results would arrive.
IG Mamta Singh, head of the three-member SIT, and Sonepat DSP Bharti Dabas and Karnal DSP Surender Kaur, both part of the investigating team, refused to come on record about the probe because the “matter was of a sensitive nature”. Two women police officers, including Devi, are also part of the team.
The senior member of the team who did not wish to be identified said the blood samples would be matched with DNA samples of the semen retrieved from the two salwars found at the alleged crime site.
In neighbouring Kurad village, where 18 youths, including a minor, have been named in the SIT list, sarpanch Bijender Singh (50) said the rape charge was an attempt to divert attention from the reservation issue. “What else? Seven boys have given their samples and I am sure their names will be cleared. But what about our reputation,” he said. All the boys who gave their blood samples from Kurad refused to talk.
— With inputs from Sanjeev Verma